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The Tale of Mr. Morton | 2009 | Damocles

06.16.09 12:47 p.m.

Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment, and especially on their children, than the unlived lives of the parents.  

-Carl Jung


Little Everyday Miracles

Ooh, what's that?

Sitting in the den of Jess's house, my stomach full of fried chicken, corn on the cob, biscuits, and salad that her friend Loren made simply for the pleasure of cooking for us, I feel more content than I have in a long while, at least since Melanie left for the summer. Loren and Jess bring down a cake to celebrate Jess's mother birthday. The moment freezes for me. Everyone is happy, even Finn who the Icy-Hot pack on his back that he describes as "being crawled on by slugs" and Rosie who twisted a muscle in her neck and has a hot water bottle hunchback. Z and Mark, Jess's parents who Loren exclusively refers to as "mom" and "pop", are home from their motorcycle tour around Canada. They barely noticed the dinner party we are having on their porch, which we refer to as "the Big Kids' Table". Loren is grinning almost nonstop and has been since she started cooking, even as she ordered us in small tasks to help her. Jess is, if anything, more excited to have her parents home than she was to have the house to herself. I am just trying to take it all in, to acknowledge the commonplace holiness of the moment without tainting the flavor of the chocolate brownie cake with preemptive nostalgia.

Before the others came downstairs, while I was still clearing dishes from our dinner, Z and Mark stopped me and asked about me. Who I was, where I came from, what I did, and so on. I stuttered out responses, my subtext screaming, "Approve of me and see how good I am, because I think your daughter is a fantastic and rare person and want every reason to stick around." They seemed to tacitly accept my presence in their house before they knew I had a name.

I thought, upon realizing my abandonment issues, I would have to battle like the dickens, but instead I just shrug and the issues retreat. "Oh, I feel a certain way… hmm… and that is because of my abandonment issues, isn't it? Well then. You can go away now, I see you for what you are." They don't always go away, but at least the return to their corner to sneer at me rather than using me as their meat puppet. I don't want another Band-Aid to my problems, but I don't think these moments with Jess and her friends qualify. Melanie has been saying how I deserve to have friends like this, how I deserve to feel happy and like I belong somewhere. I just thought she was being sweet. But there is something to the idea that I can be around nurturing people who aren't going to leave. I'm trying not to project my issues in a widening gyre of new acquaintances. I've been estranged from positive company for so long - at least positive company that didn't actively and loudly hate other members of my positive company for mirroring their own insecurities - that I am not used to it. But I have begun the process believing that the other shoe isn't going to drop, that this might be good and getting better. I think Jess would like nothing more than for me to know I belong here.

My issues are insidious, masquerading as a need for comfort and routine. Jess and I exchange emails as we work and she invited me over to her house to observe the evolving story of her role playing world. My urge was to decline, to go home and ignore the world until I had to leave again for work the next morning, to clean, write, and be alone. While I couldn't convince myself that watching role playing would be worth it, I couldn't argue that spending some time with Jess would be more than worth stepping outside my weekday comfort zone. I beat my insecurity a little each day.

It has been suggested that part of my issues may come from the fact that my parents' marriage has almost never been anything but rocky, but it feels like a psychiatric cliché to try to pin this on them, as though their marrying poorly - though it blessed them with three sons - could be the root cause of what has plagued us all in small ways. That I spent my adolescence trying to love one girl or another because I didn't feel loved enough at home (this was never the case, incidentally. I always felt very appreciated and had a familial niche I enjoyed). This, it is supposed, caused me to further begrudged that I did not get the opportunity for a dorm experience in college because it didn't allow me to figure out how to live with a community of people to whom I was not related until meeting Emily. Perhaps this is a part of it but I am not the sort who believes these kinds of issues stem neatly from one event or cause - I'm a writer, I can't believe in bad storytelling. I didn't get left at a mall as a child, I wasn't especially bothered by the thought of my parents divorcing (I recall wishing they would because they might be happy apart). Perhaps I have relationship related trust issues from them, but not abandonment (not that these two are wholly discrete).

Most importantly, I love my family, even as I tease them. I recall a moment when I was in college, driving to be with my then girlfriend and stuck in traffic. I was suddenly struck with the profound realization that my parents were people, something that seems obvious. But it meant, rather than seeing them as "parents" exclusively, rather than sticking a label over their faces and not looking deeper, I had an epiphanic awareness that they had whole histories and lives connected to mine but also unique in the world and beautiful. It was a transformative moment, watching the red light turn green again, and was the instant when I knew that I loved and understood my family as people and not simply actors I was categorically required to love. Still pretty

Realizing how often I've stuck out relationships (or tainted them) because of abandonment issues has made me love Melanie even more, incidentally, because our relationship has never been about that and she's never given me reasons to fall into old patterns of which I was not really aware until now. She is just peachiness personified. This time apart is an excellent excuse to grow and learn and deal with those things that seem to terribly unimportant when we are together, but which actually need to be confronted and dealt with.

Over cake, Jess teases her mother for being the sort to take pictures of cardboard cut-outs, interesting signs, and hundreds of photos of flowers.

"How many pictures of flowers do you need?" Jess protests.

"Well, that one is of me smelling the flower," Z explains. "So I can look at it and remember smelling the flower."

"But we have those flowers in the yard! They don't smell any different because they are in Canada," Jess replies.

To provide material evidence to her argument, Jess disappears upstairs and returns with three binders full of photos. "This is all for one trip! That lasted a week!" But she is laughing, as are we all. It feels wholesome, no matter what is privately occurring with each of the people present, how sullied they may feel simply by surviving in the world. I feel like I am watching a family and that I am Cousin Olivering my way into it. Even without Melanie, this month has been one of the best I can remember. I feel like I am in a really good place, cutting loose attachments I was uselessly clinging to and accepting good people and situations into my life. I feel on the edge of something wonderful, a kind of perpetual Christmas Eve, but I haven't gotten anyone else anything.

When I get home, I check the links to Jess's blogs she sent me and promptly I write her a letter, telling her that we need to have a serious conversation. After establishing that I am not upset with her for her "emoness", she offers to meet me Thursday night, before she goes out dancing. And I am heartened, because I now feel that there is something I can give her in exchange for all she has given me, all the memories I now have - even if I could have found them in my yard, little everyday miracles. While it's never the same, I understand her emotional position right now in an unenviable way, and I will do what I can to make her feel understood and loved, as you do with family.

Soon in Xenology: Restructuring

last watched: Pushing Daisies
reading: Fables
listening: Cyndi Lauper

The Tale of Mr. Morton | 2009 | Damocles

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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